Pictures from #showthelove Campaign

During the Students’ Union “Change Your World” week in March 2016 we ran a ‘green heart’ campaign on the SU concourse asking people to sign a green heart calling on the University to #showthelove and divest Shell. More than 150 hearts signed and sent to the Vice Chancellor! Some pictures below and here:

We had a table with lots of info on tar sands, Shell and climate change.

Table End

Which had to be extended a bit!

Table and Wires

The board was designed to be as colourful and genuinely informative as possible:

The Board

And we tried to hone in on everything that’s been achieved elsewhere already!

Other Universities

We had old school campaign badges!

Badges and Hearts

And the obligatory angry whiteboard!

Whiteboard

But the overall effect was positive and engaging 🙂

End

And as a team we certainly had fun! 🙂

Team1Team2

All ready to send to the VC!

Sending

Victory! UoS Decision

Today the University has announced that their endowment cash is to be invested in an ethical fund free from coal, tar sands, arms companies and tobacco. We have also received assurances from the Vice Chancellor and Finance Director that this does include the sale and re-investment of their remaining direct shareholdings; including that in Shell which was the subject of our ‪#‎showthelove‬ campaign! We are delighted that this means Southampton has now joined a growing list of universities committed to the socially and environmentally responsible investment of their students’ tuition fees.

Kames’ ethical investment fund is a genuinely high quality, “dark green”, investment vehicle and we wholeheartedly support their choice; which ensures that the University does not profit from the dirtiest sources of energy; socially destructive industries or human rights abuses. We would like to thank the University for engaging so warmly and constructively with our campaign and for taking this decision. Particular congratulation must be given to our new Vice Chancellor, Professor Snowden, who has now seen two universities commit to ethical investment under his leadership. Thanks also to our Students’ Union; for voting overwhelmingly to back an end to coal and tar sands investments at Union Council in December last year. Finally, the greatest thanks of all to the student society committees and academic staff who added their names to our first open letter and the more than 150 students who signed and hung green hearts during SUSU’s, “Change Your World”, week.

It is wonderful to see that progress is possible and we send our support and encouragement to the many other divestment campaigns around this country and beyond; who are united in working for a cleaner, safer future. Together, we can beat climate change.

SUSU Council Vote Outcome

Delighted that on Tuesday 8th December SUSU’s Union Council voted in favour of lobbying the University to follow the lead of 6 (at the time of writing!) other Russell Group universities who have made commitments on fossil fuel divestment. The Council also supported the inclusion of tobacco but disappointingly voted to remove arms trade references from the policy. The policy as passed is below with removed sections in italics:

This Union Notes:
1. That as a leading research institution the University of Southampton has acknowledged its important role in demonstrating leadership by promoting sustainability in all that it does and in making a positive impact on society as a globally responsible University.
2. On 8th June 2015 the 2014/15 Union Council passed Policy 1415P30 (Socially Responsible Investment) in which the Union resolved to lobby the University of Southampton to increase their ethical investments
through SRI but did not detail what this Union considers to be ethical.
3. Since this policy was passed there has been increasing momentum around COP21, a global conference currently taking placing where United Nations member states are discussing new financial and trading
mechanismsto tackle climate change.
4. The University of Southampton does not at this time mention investment ethics in its sustainability policy.
5. FOI requests published by a student-led campaign group, Invest Positive UoS, reveal that the vast majority of the University of Southampton’s endowment fund has been held as cash on
deposit awaiting reinvestment.
6. That in response to these circumstances an open letter to the new Vice Chancellor and Finance Advisory Group was published in The Wessex Scene by Invest Positive UoS; urging the University of Southampton to
commit to ethical investment practices.
7. This letter carried more than 50 signatories including the presidents of 11 SUSU affiliated student societies and 14 academic staff.
8. Four Russell Group universities (Glasgow, Oxford, Edinburgh and Warwick) and 16 UK universities in total have already made commitments similar to those called for in this open letter; to exclude all or some fossil
fuels from their investment portfolios.
9. The University of Southampton’s endowment fund is largely accrued from the tuition fees paid by members of this Union.
10. This policy refers only to the University of Southampton’s endowment fund investments and makes no comment either in support or opposition to inward research investment that may be received by individual
departments, researchers or students at their own discretion.
11. That this policy understands the, “arms trade”, to relate to the for-profit sale of weapons or military technology. This policy should not be understood as a criticism of the UK’s army, navy or air force.
The Union Believes:
1. That the Union’s members may reasonably expect the University of Southampton’s endowment fund to be invested in a manner that is consistent with preserving the long term health of global society
and the environment.
2. The University of Southampton should work with its staff and students to produce a transparent, socially and environmentally responsible investment strategy that is consistent with its research and sustainability
objectives.
3. Global climate change presents a serious threat to food security, public health, human settlements and precious habitats and biodiversity both on land and at sea. As such the University of Southampton’s investment strategy should exclude companies engaged in exploiting the most polluting and environmentally dangerous fossil fuel resources; namely coal, tar sands and Arctic development.
4. In view of the irrefutable health risks of smoking and the unethical business and lobbying practices of big tobacco, especially in developing nations, the University of Southampton must explicitly reject investment in this industry.
5. Arms companies, in profiting from the proliferation of weapons and global conflict, are highly unethical. The University of Southampton must be clear that it will never hold direct or indirect investments in the arms
industry.
6. That the University of Southampton should pro-actively seek investment opportunities that have a positive global impact such as renewable, clean energy technologies.
This Union Resolves:
1. To reaffirm its current commitment to lobbying the University of Southampton to adopt SRI; now under the more clearly defined frame of reference outlined in the “Believes” section above.
2. To formally support and raise awareness of the Invest Positive UoS campaign.
3. To set up an open, student-led working group chaired by a sabbatical officer to establish a line of dialogue with the University of Southampton regarding its investment policy.
Proposed: Mike Allwright, Maddie Cava-Beale

 

Student Societies Unite for Ethical Investment – October 12th 2015

On the 12th October we published an open letter to the Vice Chancellor and Finance Advisory Group in the Wessex Scene with an accompanying opinion piece which you can read here. The letter was signed by more than 50 staff and students including the presidents of 11 student societies. It is reproduced below.


To the Vice Chancellor and Finance Advisory Group,

As a leading research institution the University of Southampton has acknowledged its important role in demonstrating leadership by promoting sustainability in all that it does and in making a positive impact on society as a globally responsible University. These are values that it also seeks to instil in its students. The University’s research continues to make a substantial contribution to the science that underpins our understanding of climate change and to the technical advances and social changes that will help us adapt to a changing environment.

The University’s financial security is built largely upon the tuition fees paid by its students from both the UK and abroad. Therefore, they have a reasonable expectation that its endowment fund be invested in a manner that is consistent with preserving the long term health of global society and the environment. The University has been clear about its very welcome desire to see sustainability embedded across its community and we feel that a strong commitment to ethical investment is an essential step in this process. It is vital to ensure that financial decision making at the University is consistent with its ambition to be, “recognised as the global leader in sustainability in the Higher Education sector”.

We the undersigned believe:

  • Recent FOI requests revealing that the vast majority of the University’s endowment capital is being held as cash mean that this is an excellent time to consider a new investment strategy.
  • The University should work with its staff and students to produce a transparent, socially and environmentally responsible investment strategy that is consistent with its research and sustainability objectives. This should apply to both direct investments and to those in mixed funds administrated by third parties.
  • Anthropogenic global climate change presents a serious threat to food security, public health, human settlements and precious habitats and biodiversity both on land and at sea. As such the University’s investment strategy should exclude companies engaged in exploiting the most polluting and environmentally dangerous fossil fuel resources; namely coal, tar sands and Arctic drilling.
  • In making a commitment on fossil fuel investments the University of Southampton would be in good company, joining the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford and Warwick; fellow Russell Group members. Ahead of vital international climate talks in Paris this December the need for unambiguous academic support for climate action could not be greater.
  • In view of the irrefutable health risks of smoking and the unethical business and lobbying practices of big tobacco, especially in developing nations, the University must explicitly reject investment in this industry.
  • Arms companies, in profiting from the proliferation of weapons and global conflict, are highly unethical. The University must be clear that it will never hold direct or indirect investments in the arms industry.
  • Committing to socially and environmentally responsible investment would serve to greatly enhance the University of Southampton’s reputation with current and prospective students and within the national and international Higher Education sector.

Yours sincerely,

Student Signatories

Mike Allwright* – Invest Positive UoS Campaign Coordinator, PhD Student Biological Sciences

Jake James-Knell – President, Green Action Society

Maddie Cava-Beale – Secretary, Green Action Society

Rosie Pearce – Politics and International Relations

Frances Prince – Modern Languages

Cameron Meldrum – Co-chair, Young Greens

Luke Gosling – Treasurer, Young Greens

Joel Foreman – Elections Officer, Young Greens

Florence Angelo – Equality and Diversity Officer, Young Greens

Daniella Montali-Ashworth – President, SU Conservation Volunteers

Rachael Avery – Publicity Officer, SU Conservation Volunteers

Pippa Hayes – Social Secretary, SU Conservation Volunteers

Chloe Nunn – President, Marine Conservation Society

Jo Coomber – Vice President, Marine Conservation Society

David Allwright – Oceanography

Aidan Starr – Oceanography

Kyle Mayers – PhD Student OES

Steven Bourne – PhD student OES

Jessica Bellworthy – PhD Student OES

Steph Allen – PhD Student OES

Victoria Hemsley – PhD Student OES

Lucie Munns – PhD Student OES

Lissette Victorero – PhD Student OES

Jesse Cusack – PhD Student OES

Elena Bollati – PhD Student OES

Mark Marsden – President, Student Switch-Off Society

William Townsend – President, Environmental Science Student Society

Michelle Gibson – Environmental Science

Annabelle Damerum – President, Biological Sciences Postgraduate Society

Anna Page – Media and Communications Officer, Biological Sciences Postgraduate Society

James Gott – PhD Student Biological Sciences

Joe Jenkins – PhD Student Biological Sciences

Zoe Harris – PhD Student Biological Sciences

Matt Roberts – President, Worldview Southampton

Poppy Bowers – President, Amnesty International Southampton

Sara El-Kateep – President, Students for Palestine Southampton

Filipe Soares – President, Southampton Marxists

Mert Cal – Secretary, Southampton Marxists

Trina Davies – Wessex Scene, Science and Environment Editor

*Contact Email: investpositiveuos@gmail.com

Staff Signatories

Prof. John Shepherd – National Oceanography Centre, Former Chair of DECC Science Advisory Group

Prof. Jeanice Brooks – Department of Music

Dr. Conor McHugh – Associate Professor in Philosophy

Dr Gabriele B. Durrant – Associate Professor in Social Statistics

Dr. Kate Schreckenberg – Lecturer in Environmental Science

Dr. James Dyke – Lecturer of Complex Systems Simulation

Dr. Benjamin Oliver – Lecturer in Music

Dr. Chris Prior – Lecturer in History

Joyce Lewis – Senior Fellow in Electronics and Computer Science

Jane Warren – Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Ceri Dunn – Senior Teaching Fellow in English Language

Laurence Georgin – Senior Academic Coordinator in Modern Languages

Dr. Adrian Nightingale – Research Fellow in Droplet Microfluidics and Point-of-Care Diagnostics

Dr. Alexander Pryor – Post-Doctoral Researcher in Archaeology

UPDATE: 29th July – New FOI Response

UPDATE: An FOI request response was received on 23rd July and confirms that the University’s endowment capital continues to be held almost entirely as cash on deposit awaiting reinvestment. The fund stands at just over £11.1 million and a decision regarding reinvestment will be made by the Vice Chancellor through the Finance Advisory Group. The University also continues to hold 4628 shares in Royal Dutch Shell (its only direct investment) with a current value of just over £80,000.

The FOI request (LSref 10774) and response are copied below for completeness:

Dear University of Southampton,

On the 8th May this year a response was provided to FOI Request LSRef 10621 regarding the University’s endowment fund investments. For ease of reference the key part of the response is copied below:

“I have been given to understand that the fund in which the University had its endowment investment has been closed, so – with the exception of 4628 Royal Dutch Shell shares donated to the University and held to fund an endowment – all the University’s endowment capital is held as cash on bank deposit while a replacement fund for investment is found.”

Under the Freedom of Information Act we would like to submit some follow-up questions for further information. Specifically:

I. What is the total combined value of the University’s endowment capital both currently invested and held as cash?

II. If the reinvestment of the capital previously held as cash has already taken place please provide a breakdown of the stocks, shares and/or funds it has been placed in.

III. When, and by which individual or group of University of Southampton staff, was/will the decision to reinvest be made?

Dear Mr Allwright,

Please see below for answers to your questions.

I. What is the total combined value of the University’s endowment capital both currently invested and held as cash?

Cash:            £11,127,644.90

Investments:  4628 Royal Dutch Shell shares (market price is publicly available – see http://www.bloomberg.com/quote/RDSA:LN)

II. If the reinvestment of the capital previously held as cash has already taken place please provide a breakdown of the stocks, shares and/or funds it has been placed in.

N/A

III. When, and by which individual or group of University of Southampton staff, was/will the decision to reinvest be made?

The Vice-Chancellor, through the Finance Advisory Group, will make the decision to reinvest.

Open Letter to Staff – A Call to Ethical Investment at UoS

Dear Staff and PG Researchers,

We are ‘Invest Positive UoS’ – a student led group asking the University of Southampton to commit to socially and environmentally responsible investment. Please read this message and find out why. Thank you!

There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus on both the threat posed by global climate change and the significant, driving role played by human activities in this process. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas powered the industrialisation and advancement of our society but it is clear that our exploitation of these resources must now begin to come to an end. If we continue with business as usual we will be responsible for potentially catastrophic and irreversible climate change with implications for food security, human displacement and habitat and biodiversity loss.

Universities play a key role in the research that enables us to understand these risks and in developing the technologies that will help us to prevent and mitigate their impact. As such they also have a responsibility to take a proactive role in the transition to a sustainable, low carbon future.  It is essential that universities have transparent, socially responsible investment (SRI) strategies that are consistent with their research and sustainability objectives. Several universities in the UK have recently demonstrated their commitment to reducing global carbon emissions by pledging to restructure their financial endowments to exclude some or all fossil fuel companies. These include the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Oxford; fellow Russell Group members. Prominent commitments have also been made by Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and insurance giant AXA.

Ethical investment is not just about the money. The fossil fuel industry already holds far more reserves than can ever safely be burnt yet spends billions every year exploring for more in ever harsher locations. These companies are essentially betting against robust international action to avoid the worst effects of climate change (by restricting warming to below 2˚C) since such action would render these assets valueless. Public commitments to socially responsible investment are not intended or able to bankrupt these companies or lead to the obviously impractical immediate cessation of global fossil fuel use. Rather they serve to withdraw moral and academic cover from a fundamentally unethical business model and instead create space and public support for world leaders to act. Ethical financial strategies also free up university funds to invest positively; including in the clean energy technologies that will power our future. Ahead of vital international climate talks in Paris this December the need for unambiguous academic support for low carbon energy could not be greater.

This is an excellent time for the University to commit to socially responsible investment. From a recent freedom of information request:

FOI request 10621: “I have been given to understand that the fund in which the University had its endowment investment has been closed, so – with the exception of 4628 Royal Dutch Shell shares donated to the University and held to fund an endowment – all the University’s endowment capital is held as cash on bank deposit while a replacement fund for investment is found.”

These are difficult issues and we recognise that, while all fossil fuels are ultimately unsustainable and should not remain a long term feature of the University’s endowments, some are more ethically complex than others. We are therefore proposing that the University make a positive first step by pledging that the capital awaiting reinvestment will not be placed in any stocks or funds that include companies engaged in exploiting the most polluting and environmentally dangerous fossil fuel resources; namely coal, tar sands and Arctic drilling. We would also hope for a SRI strategy to exclude the arms industry or tobacco companies. Such a commitment would demonstrate that the University’s financial decision making is not distinct from its stated ambition, “to be recognised as the global leader in sustainability in the Higher Education sector”.

We would like to reassure you that we intend a positive and engaging campaign and will neither enter into nor condone violence, vandalism or abusive behaviour either at Southampton or elsewhere. We want to see a widespread conversation started among students, academics and other employees on the need for the University to publically uphold the highest standards of ethics and consistency in its investment strategy. This is a young campaign whose ideas will continue to develop. We appreciate that people may have other thoughts as to what does or does not constitute an ethical investment beyond fossil fuels and these should also be discussed. Please engage your colleagues with these issues and help us by disseminating this email and telling decision makers that you want ethical investment (the office of Sarah Pook, University Director of Finance may be reached at J.Shaw@southampton.ac.uk). This is the only unsolicited message we will be sending so please email us your ideas and let us know if you’d like to be kept updated. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter (@InvestPosUoS) and our blog. Please use your voice to help build the future that the students you support deserve.

Yours sincerely,

Invest Positive UoS

FOI Requests

On the 8th May 2015 the University responded to two similar freedom of information (FOI) requests regarding its investment holdings. This information inspired the subsequent staff letter requesting support for socially and environmentally responsible investment. The original requests and their responses are reproduced below:

LS Ref – 10516: List of all third parties that are involved in the management of all trust and hedge funds in which the university has investments held.

“I have been given to understand that the fund in which the University had its endowment investment has been closed, so – with the exception of the Royal Dutch Shell shares which you may recall – all the University’s endowment capital is held as cash on bank deposit while a replacement fund for investment is found.  The University therefore currently has no third parties involved in the management of trust or hedge funds in which the University has investments.”

LS Ref – 10621: Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, I am requesting a list of the companies the University currently invests in through its endowment funds, along with the amount invested in each company.

I am also requesting a list of the companies the University has invited on to the main campus who have operated in a “public” area of the university (including but not limited to; the Students Union, concourse, Garden Court, marquees set up for Careers Fairs, etc.) whether this is to sell a product (such as food), recruit students as customers or to work for that company. I would like this information for the past 5 years.

“From another FOI request, I have been given to understand that the fund in which the University had its endowment investment has been closed, so – with the exception of 4628 Royal Dutch Shell shares donated to the University and held to fund an endowment – all the University’s endowment capital is held as cash on bank deposit while a replacement fund for investment is found.

As regards companies invited onto the main campus – providing a full and accurate picture may not be possible at all – and certainly not within the cost/time limit (18 hours = £450 costed at £25/hour) set by the Freedom of Information Act. Rather than refusing this part of your request on cost/time grounds, could I ask you to reformulate it so that it covers what is most important to you without going over the limit?”